When we were children, I imagine that most of us really looked forward to this holiday season as one of the best times of the year. Halloween kicks off a two-month long extravaganza of treats, sweets and gifts especially for those of us in the U.S. with our Thanksgiving feasting. But as we get older we may experience the trick rather than the treat and start to see this time of year as one of the most challenging, both with the demands of all the celebrations and with the potential for illness.
There’s an inherent conflict between the behaviors we tend to indulge in during the holidays and the underlying energy the seasonal changes. This imbalance can increase our susceptibility to disease – even the flu has its own season! These main holidays, from Halloween through New Year’s Day, occur in the darker, late autumn and wintertime of the year, which is naturally a more inward time requiring more rest and quiet plus a simple warm, nourishing diet. Yet, there are more treats at home, work and wherever we go, and we are asked to attend parties and family events where we are exposed to and tempted by more sugar and floury products, rich foods, alcohol and more. We often go out at night when we would be better off resting and recharging at home, or sitting around a fireplace visiting with a friend. So, pay attention to these inner dimensions of this magical time of the year and do your best to find your own unique balance.
Here are my general health tips for both Surviving and Staying Healthy over the Holidays.
Be aware of your body’s needs and be fair with yourself. Most of us can get away with some treats or occasional departures from our usual eating habits. However, if we go to extremes, we may suffer the consequences and get sick. Get to know yourself and find the right balance.
Connect with others: deepen and clarify your love and family connections. Emotional nurturance offers a satisfaction that may lessen stress and avoid overeating and the excesses of the holidays. Be a supportive friend to others, yet also ask for support if you need it. Take care of one another. It’s good for your spirit.
Stay open to your creativity. Do new things to improve your health, like a massage or trying some new, healthy foods. The first weeks of November or December (before or after Thanksgiving) are a good time to look at nutritional clean up. Soon there will be many tempting sweets, baked goods, alcoholic beverages and just too much rich food.
Maintain your cornerstones of health – the 5 Keys to Staying Healthy. These include a nourishing diet, regular exercise, minimal stress, adequate sleep and a good attitude, including being able to relate well to family, friends, and co-workers, which can be particularly demanding during the holiday season!
Find the basic supportive foods for your diet that provide the energy and nutrients your body needs to Stay Healthy. In the colder months, it is important to focus on heat generating foods, such as cooked grains and legumes, hard squashes, some nuts, seeds, and protein foods. Also, include some garlic, onion, and ginger for your immune health, plus the energizing spicy peppers such as cayenne and chili. This will keep your blood and energy moving. Know what works for you. Ask what’s important for your great health! Write them down.
For example, here are five personal habits that are important for my own health:
- Not eating too much too late in the day
- Drinking plenty of good water
- Exercising regularly and stretching too
- Chewing my food very well, and eating more slowly (and less too)
- Focusing my diet around vegetables
Exercise is crucial now as in any season. As the weather cools, stretching is even more important, as is having indoor exercises you can do. Yoga and other flexibility-enhancing movements are helpful for keeping us youthful. An old yoga proverb suggests, “We are as young as our spine is flexible.” Working with weights and doing aerobic exercises are vital to staying fit and strong to support immune function and circulation. A vital body rarely gets sick. Also, try some inner exercise—meditate and explore your inner world and your dreams in your restful recharging sleep.
Nutritional supplements can be used to support your health as well. Immune-protective nutrients may help you prevent common colds and other illnesses. Taking the herb echinacea now may be helpful, as well as the Chinese herb, astragalus. Maintaining daily intake of vitamins C, B and E, along with selenium and zinc can also offer some immune protection and helps clear your body of certain toxins. Also, you can consult with your naturally-oriented practitioner to help you with nutritional, herbal or glandular (like thymus or adrenal) therapies that would address your specific health conditions. Check out my cold busting suggestions below.
Enjoy safe travels by preparing well and being aware and cautious. Plan your trips and your packing to stay light and have just what you need, if that’s possible; a printed list can be helpful. While traveling, avoid dehydration and eat well; this may involve bringing water and appropriate food/snacks with you on the plane or in your car. Take a few key supplements with you to ward off all the germ exposures. This includes garlic, vitamin C, and natural hand sanitizers. Factors that can weaken immunity include stressful emotions, nutritional deficiencies, excess sugar and alcohol, and overwork. Some Immune Supporters include good sleep, a healthy diet, reducing stress, regular exercise, and feelings of love and appreciation. (See my book, Ultimate Immunity or the Immune Enhancement section in Chapter 16 of my book Staying Healthy with Nutrition.)
Prepare for the cold season. Gather your fuel and food for body warmth and protection, and exercise as you should. In Chinese medicine, the Autumn season focuses on the lungs and large intestine. Overdoing it can lead to congestion and toxicity, such as constipation and the clogging of the nose and sinuses. This can lead to upper respiratory infections as the germs grow in the mucus and then inflame the membranes. Winter relates to the water element, kidneys and bladder, and is a time of rest and reflection. Stay hydrated and avoid overdoing salty foods. Staying clean and clear this season, along with a healthy immune system, will help keep you well. To help clear the sinuses, cleanse them with water in the shower, or try a facial steam—breathing in the aromatic herbal mist (you can use mints, rosemary, chamomile, lemon verbena, and other herbs).
Take a rest now because the demanding holiday season is just around the corner. Do not burn your batteries out before late December. Kindle your inner flame and firepower, which can protect you from the invasion of harsh climates and germs. The Winter blues come partly from a loss of this inner fire energy. Shifting and balancing with the Seasons is vital to Staying Healthy.
Extra Notes on Colds & Flus
I mentioned these tips in my recent 10 Tips for a Healthy Autumn, but I think they’re always worth repeating at this time of year.
If you do get any colds or flus, it is best to jump on them immediately.
Vitamin C – I start with hourly vitamin C of 500-1000 mg,
Vitamin A – I take and often suggest increased doses of vitamin A (not beta-carotene) – 25,000-30,000 IUs 3-4 times daily for just 3-4 days and then lower that dosage to 10-25,000 IUs twice daily for about a week. Then take a break since excess vitamin A can be toxic if taken too long in these higher amounts. Although when we are fighting off infections, it doesn’t seem to be problematic and these higher amounts help us fight off germs at our mucous membranes.
Garlic – I also use fresh garlic, taking several cloves at a time, dipping them in honey and chewing them. I may repeat this several times for the first day; alternatively, you can press a few cloves into a hot bowl of soup. Garlic is a spicy and aromatic natural antibiotic and immune defender; you could also use the odorless garlic caps, several capsules 3 times daily, if you do not want the smell, but they are not quite as effective.
Echinacea and Goldenseal – an extract (in alcohol) can also be used to support immunity and cleanse the membranes; even the alcohol in them is a disinfectant.
Olive leaf extract – this mild anti-viral herb can provide some support as well.
Hydration – of course, drink lots of water, herbal teas, and hot soup.
Rest – and remember that extra rest helps in healing. Often, we get sick when we are out of balance or overdoing it, so a cold gives us the opportunity to rest and sleep.
Overall, take care of yourself; you are certainly worth it!